my favorite self portrait

I love this drawing. It may not look it, but it’s really important. I made it shortly after I’d first discovered the magic of gel pens and water. At the time, I was mostly just doing blind contour self-portraits in sharpie, but I looked with this one—that’s why it’s so important.

I did this one fast after having practiced at the blind contours quite a bit. I drew it in about a minute or so—too fast to judge or second guess. The first time I tried to draw myself as an adult, I realized I only had a vague idea about what I looked like, and I tried to draw what I thought I should see in the mirror.

All the blind contours helped because I had to actually look at myself, which meant I wasn’t looking at the paper and judging the outcome or giving up because the slope of a line was wrong or my nose looked dumb.

Strangely, I remember when I made this one that my hand felt disconnected from my mind, like it was moving around on its own and spitting out lines in the process. I think I was just learning to trust my hands and senses and to tell my brain and all of its opinions to shut up. And more importantly, I was learning to actually look at myself and see myself for what I was, not what I lacked. As it turns out, those are both really useful skills.

Even though this isn’t a realistic portrait of me, I can see myself. I recognize myself in it even though the features are hyper-exaggerated. I was wearing my Nasa shirt—I wore it all the time back then, and pretty often still.

When I first came back to art as an adult, I brought a whole lot of bullshit with me: perfectionism, the idea that there were a lot of things wrong with me, that not everybody gets to be an artist, that I was probably going to fail miserably.

I remember the terror of looking at every blank page like it was my one shot, my one opportunity and I was about to choke, just like Eminem sang about. Of course that’s not true, but that nonsense is all over my face in that drawing. My expression is wild and frantic. I’m holding my breath to see if I’ll make it to the end of the drawing, and I did.

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